10/19/2008 - Ski patrol gets real for television
Reality show: Blue Mountain group to star in November.
By John J. Moser | Of The Morning Call


When the head of programming for the premier producers of reality television decided last year to tell the story of the National Ski Patrol -- the group that keeps slopes safe -- he felt he found his ideal location in Blue Mountain Ski Area near Palmerton.

Jeff Jenkins, executive vice president for Bunim/Murray Productions knew the area from filming a 2005 episode of ''The Simple Life'' with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie at Lehigh Valley International Airport.

But Jim Dailey, Blue Mountain's ski patrol director, wasn't sure.

''We weren't afraid of what we do and who we are,'' Dailey said, noting that Blue's 183-member Ski Patrol is among the largest in the East. ''We do a lot of great things for people.''

''But,'' he said, ''we also see a lot of pain and suffering.'' Add to that reality TV's seeming need to inject controversy into its shows, and Dailey said he had ''an awful lot of skepticism and reservations.''

But pep talks from Jenkins -- he told Dailey his father and sister were Ski Patrol members and he wanted to portray the group as heroes -- persuaded Dailey. And for six weeks last winter, a film crew daily fitted Blue Mountain's patrollers with microphones and followed them.

The result is six episodes of ''Ski Patrol,'' a truTV (formerly Court TV) network show that debuts 8 p.m. Monday with scenes from Crystal Mountain, Wash., the only other resort featured. Blue Mountain episodes are scheduled to start Nov. 10 and run through Nov. 24. There also will be four Internet episodes, Dailey said.

''In meeting Jim Dailey and his team of patrollers, I was struck by their amazing dedication and knowledge,'' said Jenkins, whose company is credited with starting the reality TV craze with MTV's ''The Real World.''

''They're an excellent team of professionals, and I knew an audience would enjoy getting a peek into their world.''

Robyn Hutt, truTV's senior vice president of current programming , said that was accomplished. ''It's really well done because of the access Blue Mountain provided,'' Hutt said. ''That really allows viewers to experience the world of the ski patroller.''

Review episodes that show only Crystal Mountain episode synopses from truTV indicate Blue Mountain stories include ''a missing skier lost in the frigid elements,'' one who's ''in danger of losing a limb,'' a chairlift breakdown that ''forces a difficult and dangerous midair evacuation'' and ''a badly injured boy whose father must make an agonizing decision.''

Dailey, also Blue's director of marketing, said he wasn't concerned about the show focusing on injuries -- he said skiers know there's ''an inherent risk,'' and thrill and danger are part of the sport's appeal. He said camera crews were discreet and ''had very good taste.''

There were three crews: at the summit, at the base and skiing and snowboarding with patrol crews. Experienced in reality TV, all were unobtrusive and ''really became flies on the wall,'' Dailey said.

He's contractually prohibited from detailing episodes, but Dailey said the crew arrived on a busy weekend and was quickly in action on the first day. That's reflected in the start of Blue Mountain's first episode, he said.

''I think it gives a very realistic picture of what we do,'' Dailey said. While the show creates story lines -- such as father-daughter patrollers being led on a ''wild chase'' by ''reckless speeders'' -- it didn't sensationalize, he said.

Dailey said Blue Mountain became involved when he replied to a September 2007 e-mail seeking a resort site for the show. The e-mail said it would be like truTV's ''Beach Patrol'' -- though ''not as gritty'' -- and follow National Ski Patrol members as they dealt with slope infractions, injuries and emergencies.

''We were looking for another action show that could provide a window in a unique world,'' truTV's Hutt said .

About 250 resorts replied. Dailey said the deal-maker for Blue Mountain was getting editorial approval of episodes. It turns out it didn't need it -- Dailey said the only changes the resort made were correcting names and locations.

He said he also got clearance from the National Ski Patrol -- it also had editorial approval -- and waivers from area ambulance services and hospitals.

''We were blessed by how much cooperation we got,'' Dailey said.

The resort also had to get signed releases from patrol members -- almost all signed; about half made the show, Dailey said -- and from patrons. Those who didn't sign had their scenes cut or faces blurred.

Blue Mountain Ski Patrol member Susie Molnar of Moore Township says she was ''very hesitant'' after a 2002 appearance on the reality show ''Trading Spaces'' left her dissatisfied.

''I sort of knew TV's goals aren't always the same as your goals,'' Molnar said. ''I wasn't interested in another show overplaying it.'' She said ''Trading Spaces'' told her ''controversy makes good TV'' and she wondered how far truTV ''would go to make a good show.''

But she said was persuaded by Dailey, who called Molnar one of the resort's ''star patrollers'' and said it would be hard to do without her. As it turned out, Molnar, who is on the crew that removes riders from stalled chairlifts, is shown doing that in one episode.

''I was impressed,'' she said. ''It was a good portrayal of the ski patrol.''

Dailey said most patrons had no such reservations. Signs posted notifying skiers they were being filmed drew lots of attention, and even some rule-breakers stopped by the ski patrol were nicer while being filmed. ''People actually thanked us for writing them tickets,'' he said.

Blue Mountain is contracted for a second season of ''Ski Patrol'' if ratings justify it.

''I think that's further down the road,'' said truTV's Hutt. ''But ... we're anticipating the series will do well. Hopefully, we will do another season.''

Producer Jenkins said the show turned out ''absolutely better than I expected.''

''The patrol there was very generous in allowing access into their world,'' he said. ''And showing the challenges they go through -- from reuniting a child with their parent to dealing with hotdoggers to serious injuries -- in making it a safe place to ski.''

SKI PATROL

National Ski Patrol: Founded in 1938, the nonprofit group, based in Colorado, has more than 26,000 members in more than 600 chapters. Its mission is education, but it also provides outdoor emergency care and rescue.

Blue Mountain Ski Patrol: With 183 members, it's among the largest in the East. Responded to 1,605 incidents in the 2006-07 season -- almost two-thirds dealing with snowboarders. It also reunites lost children with parents, evacuates stalled ski lifts, helps stranded skiers, escorts course groomers, retrieves runaway or dropped equipment, trains candidates. Patrollers are the last ones off the mountain each night, riding lifts and skiing each trail to direct patrons to the lodges.

Injuries: About 10 times a season, medical helicopters fly Blue Mountain patrons to trauma centers. About 150 people a season leave by ambulance. More are injured but leave by car or bus.

Part of Ski Patrol's charter is to promote snow sports and safety, and James Dailey, Blue Mountain's Ski Patrol director, says that was a factor in Blue Mountain's decision to participate in the TV show. While Blue Mountain's squad is so popular it turns people away, nationally the group's membership is aging, and with truTV reaching 91 million U.S. homes, Dailey said he thought the show could be a recruiting tool.
 

Video Footage available ... Click on link below
-- John J. Moser - The Morning Call 10-19-2008


EPISODES

Downed Beginner – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 5 at 10P
A skier attempting a jump from a 15 foot cliff landed on a rock and is bleeding profusely from a massive laceration. But patrol’s job getting him off the mountain gets even harder when a storm rolls in, leaving the access road blocked and the helicopter unable to land. Then later, patrol must navigate a toboggan rescue on the face of a 2000 foot vertical drop, a downed beginner is abandoned by his friends and one patroller hangs up his skis.

Break a Leg – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 5 at 10:30P
A hit and run on the mountain has a young girl in critical condition, and the patrol on an all out manhunt. And later, getting a little boy down the mountain becomes even more difficult when patrol learns he’s claustrophobic, one of the best skiers Crystal has ever seen drops in for a surprise run, and one girl’s twisted leg is a laughing matter – for her friend! TV-PG
 
The Great Chase – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 12 at 10P
A nasty fall leaves a young boy's leg horribly twisted, snowboarding punks wreak havoc on the mountain, and reckless speeders lead a father-daughter Ski Patrol team on a wild chase on the slopes. TV-PG-L
 
The Final Test – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 12 at 10:30P
The search for a deadly weapon has the mountain on edge, a call hits close to home when a patroller's daughter is in trouble, and a year of training comes down to the final test for two patrol candidates. TV-PG
 
Chairway to Heaven – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 19 at 10P
There's tension in the air when a chairlift breakdown forces a difficult and dangerous midair evacuation, a fight in the lift line could lead to an arrest, and the search is on for a hit-and-run snowboarder. TV-PG-L
 
Need for Speed – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 19 at 10:30P
Patrollers race against the clock as they search for a missing skier lost in the frigid elements, a boarder is warned about speeding but refuses to learn his lesson, and the patrol tends to a skier who's in danger of losing of a limb. TV-PG-L
 
Who Are You? – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 26 at 10P
It's the women's time to shine as they respond to a blizzard of emergencies, including a badly injured boy whose father must make an agonizing decision. Plus, a boarder with memory loss has the patrol trying to piece together a puzzle. TV-PG
 
Panic at the Ski Slope – NEW!
Premieres Wed, November 26 at 10:30P
A panic attack on the mountain has one girl stopped dead in her tracks. Then patrollers drop their skis and pitch in to help with a car accident and a potential broken neck. Plus, one drunk skier isn't happy to hear that it's last call. TV-PG-L

 


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